Title: Golden Lights Go Dark Tonight
Rating: R
Category: AU gen oneshot
Word Count: 5098
Characters: Sam, Ruby, Dean and asst. others
Spoilers: S2: "All Hell Breaks Loose" Parts I & II; S3: It would have been helpful to see up through "Mystery Spot" to better understand things. However, the only episode from which information is directly stated is "Sin City."
Summary: In the beginning, Sam only wanted to save Dean. By the end, everything and nothing had changed.
Warnings: Character death, detailed gore
Author's Notes: All right, let's see if I can remember how to do this. This story was conceived way back in December, abandoned for real life, and finally revived one late night in February while listening to Queen's "The Show Must Go On" on repeat. And here we are. A big thank you to both of my betas, who offered support and thoughts among their corrections of my typos and inconsistencies. They both helped to smooth out the rough patches and sharpen the edges. I haven't been around fandom for the last few months, so perhaps this idea has already been written. If so, this wasn't meant to impose on anyone else's territory. This is just my take on a very big "what-if." Any remaining mistakes are mine alone and are not the reflection of anyone else.
Disclaimer: The following characters and situations are used without permission of the creators, owners, and further affiliates of the television show, Supernatural, to whom they rightly belong. I claim only what is mine, and I make no money off what is theirs.

With the end approaching far too fast, Dean is the one who finally says, "Stop. We need to stop. There's nothing more we can do."

Sam's eyes are red, bloodshot from grief and exhaustion. He looks down at Dean, who sits and stares out the motel window into a world he won't see much longer.

"I'm not just going to give up on you," Sam spits. His vision burns, and his body aches. And Dean's demise is almost at hand. Sam lowers his eyes to the table beside him where the laptop's light blinks sleepily and their books are opened, all words and false hopes staring up at him. A year of searching only to still be standing here with empty hands.

On the bed, elbows on his knees, hands dangling tiredly between, Dean sighs raggedly. "I know you won't," he says. "You did everything you could. But, Sammy, you gotta promise me something, all right?" He glances up to Sam.

Sam doesn't reply. He tightens his mouth, hating already whatever Dean is going to ask of him.

"Promise me that you'll go on afterwards—okay? This was my choice. Don't destroy your life over me. Can you do that?"

Sam curses and turns away, wiping a hand over his face while acid rises hot and wicked in his belly. Angry at the deal. Angry at the demons. Angry at so much more than just his brother too close to the grave before him now.

"Sam?" Dean presses.

"I can't promise you that," Sam says after a moment of silence. He turns around and crosses the room to sit on the bed next to Dean. The mattress creaks, dips with his weight, and Dean bites his lower lip. "I can't promise you that," Sam repeats. "I can promise you that I'm not going to stop. I'll never stop until you're safe again."

Next to him, Dean sighs and closes his eyes. When he looks back, his eyes are wet and distant. He's already breaking apart.

Sam brings a fist to his mouth and chokes down a sob.

They sit together until dawn.

- - - - -

Dean dies that evening.

They take his soul and leave his body on the graveled road behind the motel. His eyes are opened, dull and dark, and there is blood dried on his chin and shirt but still wet in his mouth when Sam finds him.

Sam, who takes Dean's face in his hands and shakes him by the shoulders, who punches and slaps Dean despite knowing all the better, and who eventually breaks down and buries his face in Dean's shirt.

One hand fisted in Dean's jacket and another curled over Dean's cheek, Sam cries. The loss slashes him open and leaves him bleeding beside his brother on that empty demons' road.

- - - - -

A few come to see him afterwards to offer sympathies and comfort. He accepts them all through clenched teeth and false smiles, reminding himself they mean the best.

When she comes, she doesn't knock—as is her style. Simply walks into his room, plays with his laptop, and says, "Couldn't save your brother, huh? Boy, that sure does suck."

He leaps to his feet, flips over a chair in his haste, and wraps a hand around her throat to press her against the wall.

"You lying bitch," he hisses, teeth bared and face hot. "You told me I could save him."

Ruby smiles, open and unafraid. "You weren't strong enough, Sammy."

"Fuck you," he growls, feeling how her weak human form bends beneath him. He could never kill her. Couldn't kill a demon like this, but he can hurt her enough to dull what pain Dean left behind.

"You can still save him. It's not too late."

"You're lying. Just like you did before."

"Am I?" she asks, too demonic in a body already gone to worry about lack of oxygen. "How long do you want to wait around? How long do you want to let Dean suffer before you realize I'm telling you the truth?"

He releases her, and she slides down the wall, caught off balance for the briefest of a moment. Turning away, he faces his window where the world is endless black. Even the lights of the city seem to have died tonight.

"What do I have to do?" he asks, and he hears the smile creep across her face when she answers.

- - - - -

"You moved a cupboard," she tells him.

He glares at her from across the table where they sit in the diner. Well after lunch, not quite dinner yet, and the only people in the place are the two waitresses over the corner, giggling over their opened cell phones, and a cook in the back, swearing under his breath.

"You moved a cupboard," she repeats.

"Or else Dean was going to be shot. He was going to die."

She smirks. "Then do it again."

"I can't just turn it on and off. It doesn't work like that. I haven't had any powers since we killed Yellow Eyes."

She picks up her spoon that was for the soup now turning cold in front of her. It's ordinary and silver, like hundreds of others he's used before, and she holds it between the two of them and says, "Take the spoon out of my hand, Sam."

"This isn't going to save Dean."

"Yeah, well, a spoon isn't going to get your big bro out of Hell," she agrees, not taking her eyes away from his. "But, it's all about baby steps, okay? Humor me and take the spoon away."

He stands up, chair scraping loudly across the floor, and looks down at her. "This is bullshit."

"Then consider your brother gone for good."

He bends down and snatches the spoon from her hand. Flings it on the table where it clatters noisily before skittering to the floor, and the waitresses, startled, gape at him. He turns away and storms out of the restaurant.

- - - - -

He doesn't see her for a while after that, and he's glad to be on his own again. It makes it easier to think and read. Makes it easier to concentrate on how to save Dean.

Somewhere around two weeks and a few days after he saw her in the diner, he starts having nightmares again. Painful and vicious, white-hot electricity behind his eyes, they tear him from his bed and throw him to the ground. He wakes, startled and agonized, with blood falling from his nose and onto his shaking hands.

He saw Hell. Burning, screaming, and suffering.

He saw Dean. Burning, screaming, and suffering.

It only takes three nights of these visions for Sam to go searching for Ruby.

At a bar where moths, fat and white, gather around the light on the porch outside and the jukebox plays every song with a background whine, she slides onto the stool next to him and asks, "You been looking for me, tiger?"

He says, "I need your help."

- - - - -

"The trick," she tells him the following day, sitting on the trunk of the Impala and drinking a beer, "is that there really isn't one at all."

He paces, long strides through knee-high grass that scratches at his jeans, and he stops, turns to look at her. "What do you mean?" he asks.

"You saw the future before, right? And it just happened. Fell out of the sky and bonked you on the head. You moved a cupboard too. And why?"

"I was scared. Dean was going to die if I didn't get to him."

"Were you angry? At Max for killing him?"

He doesn't answer right away. Remembers how he felt, trapped in that closet, tormented from the vision of Dean, bullet through the brain and dead on the floor. He remembers the pounding of adrenaline, heady and hot, and the sense of suffocation behind that door. Sam lets her keep on talking, her voice silver and sharp on the prairie's wind.

"You're angry now, aren't you? You're angry and scared, and you just don't want to admit it because you're too stubborn or whatever else you Winchesters are," she says, cocky and proud like she's the one who's done something right in all of this. "You're an awful lot like your father, so I've heard." She chuckles.

"Shut up!" he snaps.

Her beer suddenly flies from her hand, liquid whipping out as the bottle lands away, disappearing into the grass.

He stands, breathless under the setting sun, and she smiles.

"Now we're getting somewhere," she says.

- - - - -

He's not stupid.

He knows she's toying with him and playing up his emotions so he can read minds and make things fly, so he can call to lesser demons and have them do his bidding.

In New Jersey, he gets two new guns for free when the salesclerk stares at him blankly and tells Sam, "They're yours, boy. Go on, take 'em," because Sam climbed inside his head and put in his own words. Down in the bayous of New Orleans, Sam calls to minions with names he can't pronounce with his tongue, and over the next month, the state reports a record number of cattle deaths and the old folks whisper things about the devil and the scientists claim a new parasite. He sees the future again, and he knows how to control his visions now so he can see what he wants and who he wants.

His anger—at Ruby, at the deal, at so much—remains a low burn under his skin. It's his energy now. His power that fuels these strange abilities.

One night, as he bends over the sink, washing his face, he stares at the running water, cold on his hands. He concentrates, wondering, as the water hits his skin. It fizzles and pops before steaming away with his touch.

- - - - -

Ruby takes him to the Devil's Gate. The same place where he saw his father for the last time and where Dean killed that yellow-eyed monster. Some of the gravestones are cracked and falling face first into the ground, and there are spotty patches of blackened grass that look like footprints.

"You still can't go in there," she tells him.

"Why's that? I can do everything else you asked me," he replies, the weight of the Colt, the key, heavy in his hand. He feels stupid in his hope that today would be the day he can finally go into Hell and pull Dean back to this world.

"Only souls can enter Hell. Flesh can't." She turns away from the looming door and pats him on the arm as she walks towards the cemetery's exit. "Unfortunately, babe, you're still just meat and bones. You can't go in."

He watches her walk away before diverting his attention and pressing a hand to the door, thinking of Dean behind there, burning down there.

Sam bends his head. "What if I could leave my body?" he asks. "Then could I enter Hell?"

He's not facing her, but he hears her footsteps, soft and light, crunching on the dried grass, stop when she says, "Well, that sure would be quite the trick, wouldn't it?"

- - - - -

He practices by himself. There's no training manual from Dad and no Dean to give him patient step-by-step directions. Yet, Dean is still present because in the end it all returns to Dean. Everything revolves around Dean, the deal, and the demon.

Sam spends hours reading books about near-death experiences and out of body sensations. They don't give him how's—only when's and where's—but he doesn't give up.

In his motel room at night, he concentrates on simply not being. His head thump-thumps with frustration and agony, and sometimes, he slips under and later awakes with pain slicing him open.

Other times, blood drips, thick and sticky, from the corners of his eyes, and he fights to breathe before the blackness swallows him. When he comes to consciousness, his face is buried in the carpet, smeared with his blood and snot.

This is when he almost stops. Almost decides that this battle isn't for him because Dean would never want to see him suffer so much. But when Sam goes to sleep and sees only Hell, he knows he can't give up until Dean's breathing this world's air.

It's almost five in the morning—he's been awake since two, ripped from sleep by the nightmares—before he tries the next time. He closes his eyes, concentrates on not being in his body, but out. In space. Untouchable.

He hears himself screaming, raw and loud, and then he's slammed forward, carried by momentum worse than any car accident he's ever known, and he stares down at his body on the floor.

The sensation doesn't last long before he's shooting, rapid and uncontrollably, back into his skin. His heart is pounding furiously, frantically, and he's gasping for air. When he dizzily sits up, he discovers that he's gone blind in his left eye, and his fingers now prickle when they move. There are opened wounds on his arms, glossy and gaping, that burn when he shifts. His body is falling apart under the sheer strain of what he's unnaturally forcing it to do.

He laughs because he won't need his body much longer anyway.

- - - - -

He finds Ruby by tracing her thoughts. She taught him how to do that, how to focus on a person so intently that he can hear them simply thinking from thousands of miles away. When he finds her, holed up in a motel on the outskirts of Vegas, he walks in on her watching TV like she's walked in on him hundreds of times before.

She doesn't look up when he enters. Only eats an orange chip from her bag and says casually, "Come to say hi, Sam? You missed me that much?"

"I'm going into Hell," he tells her, "and you're coming with me," and at that, she does look up.

The first thought from her that he catches is what happened to him before she snorts and says, "Bullshit. You know what I said earlier. You can't if—"

He doesn't let her finish. He catapults out of his own body, goes flying through the air before shoving her from the pretty young blonde she's been claiming as a shell.

There's a moment of disorientation before he opens her eyes to see his body staring at him from across the room. His face is panicked, and his one good eye looks frightened, and he knows she's in there—Didn't see this one coming, did ya? He tastes the nacho chips on her tongue and chuckles with her vocal cords, a tinny little sound he's not accustomed to, before shooting out of her body and into his own again.

She comes back to her skin with a wheezing gasp, and he leans against the doorway nonchalantly. As she catches her breath, he picks at one of the scabs on his forearm idly.

"Well?" he finally says after a long moment of silence.

Her face is flushed and eyes narrowed, and he knows she's angry and she's scared and she's excited all at once.

"You piece of shit," she hisses. "You actually fucking did it."

- - - - -

They go back to the Devil's Gate together. The drive is silent; her presence turns the car radio to static. The streetlights flicker as they drive under, and the flashing lights cast eerie, creeping shadows down her face.

He doesn't need to use the Colt to open the door now. Simply reaches out with his mind and turns the latch. She stands behind him, apprehensive and anxious, and he glances over his shoulder at her.

"You scared or something?" he asks.

She glares up, big blue eyes going black, and answers, "You're going willingly into Hell. You'd have to be an idiot not to be scared once you know what waits down there."

He swallows, doesn't reply, and the door swings open. He feels the blast of souls and demons against his skin, red-hot force of death at its worst, and he lifts a hand, holds them back. No, no, this is not your time.

Turning, he offers his other hand to Ruby.

"You coming?" he asks, and she says nothing, only leaves her body in a black cloud, and Sam, abandoning his body, follows her through the doorway. He slams the door behind them as they go down together.

- - - - -

Hell is more than fire and blood. It is pain and fear. It is every monster he has been taught to kill without looking back and every tear he has ever shed.

The walls of the hallways through which they pass pulse and tremble with rotting life, and as he whisks by, he sees faces stamped onto the walls and fingernails curling out to him. The flesh of sinners holds this prison together.

Where's Dean? he asks Ruby.

I don't know, she tells him.

Demons laugh and scream in a cacophony of agony around them. Their voices ring and echo through this endless horror, and they whisper as they scuttle, scratchy little insect feet on black rock, close to his soul.

You're returned, they cry. You came back to us. We've missed you, they tell him.

He turns to ignore them, doesn't want to understand their words and what they mean. All he can think about is Dean. That is all he must think about to ensure that he escapes this place with his sanity intact.

They pass molten rivers where men are boiled to puckered, pink pigs, and they go by black mountains rising high into a blood-black sky without a sun. Humans call out to them as they travel. Women with rotting faces, skin alive with the writhe and squirm of plump maggots, wail and plead for help. A man, eyelids peeled away, reaches for Sam and asks to be saved as a demon claws open his stomach. Grinning at Sam, the demon gnaws hungrily at the steaming intestines that spill from the man. The man screams and the demon snickers.

He doesn't know how long he's down there. It seems like hours. Could be days, perhaps. Time is disposable in this world. Every time Ruby says that they should leave before they get dragged into this and cannot escape, he bites back. Tells her that he's not leaving without Dean.

They go on.

The deeper they go, the more that people begin to resemble the demons. The souls lose their gender and their identity. A wizened figure, flesh charred black by eternal fire, sits on a ledge and laughs manically as Sam passes below. Another form with a skull for a head, picks away at its skin and eats the pieces with soft, slurping sounds from its pus oozing tongue. The fleshy walls harden to pieces of bone and stone, and bloated corpses lie scattered on the ground while figures that could have once been human eat away at the carnage. They feast on the carcasses like animals.

The demons follow with their whispers and their welcomes, and he thinks, Dean, Dean¸ Dean, I'm coming, to keep him grounded. To keep himself from breaking.

His brother's name, the thought of him is the only piece of humanity in Sam's mind right then.

He thinks, I shouldn't be here.

He doesn't realize he's said it aloud for others to hear until Ruby whispers, her voice cutting through the rest of the nightmare, I think it's a bit late for that now.

- - - - -

He finds Dean.

It's too late.

He's too late.

- - - - -

The demons, greedy and ravenous, gather around, coming between him and Dean. They separate the brothers, cackling and screaming for attention from Sam. They're a black cloud of hands and teeth, of little red eyes and curved sharpened nails.

Ruby, on the outside of the madness, pleads for Sam to leave before the demons swallow the two of them whole. She pleads and begs with fear on her tongue, and the demons' voices drown her out.

The monsters move as a swell, a force that he, too distracted, cannot stop now, and they move him away from Dean. Sam cries out, furious and raw words that disappear into the infinite darkness, and his voice is meaningless in this pit of abomination.

He has no choice but to turn in the opposite direction before the demons consume him.

He leaves without Dean.

He leaves Hell more alone than when he entered.

- - - - -

Outside the Gates, back in their human forms, they don't say anything. His blood is thrumming, thick and strong, beneath his skin, and he feels like he's going to crack with the voices of the humans and demons rolling madly in his mind. He's going to explode with everything rushing inside him.

Ruby brushes her hair away from her face and says, "For what it's worth, I'm sorry."

They're small words, meaning to hurt no one, but he snaps. Snaps at her who knew this would happen, who knew what Hell would do to Dean, who knew and wouldn't give until it was too late for salvation.

He snaps and all his anger, his fear and worry, and every emotion comes unlocked. His power, stronger than he knew, surges from him and slams into her.

She screams when the force hits her. Her human body tumbles to the ground where the bullet hole in her side begins to bleed through her shirt, and the black smoke that was her demonic form fades and crackles, dying, in the air.

He doesn't know if she'll go back to Hell. He doesn't care.

When he walks closer to the dying body, an unrecognizable girl stares up, blonde hair a fan around her head. Her lips flicker in a smile, bare and fleeting, and she looks up at him and whispers, "She knew you'd return one day."

He stares down indifferently as she dies.

- - - - -

He still carries the desperate hope that he can save Dean. Even though Sam understands how futile such ideas may now be, knowing what Dean is—isn't—now, he pushes that monstrous image away. He focuses his attention onto the brother that he knew before the end.

The thought of Dean's salvation forces Sam to push himself, to gain tricks and powers, all in the hope of saving Dean. He hurts and he kills if he thinks it'll bring him closer to a resolution. He plays with blood at dawn and tastes fire at midnight. He doesn't stop.

Little by little, this obsession strips him of his humanity just as Hell stripped Dean of his.

Sam doesn't recognize the loss.

- - - - -

He's walking down the street late at night, and the people turn away from him—don't look at me, you morons—with mere directions of his mind. The stores are closing, shutting off their lights and locking their doors.

For a brief moment, he pauses and stops to stare at his reflection in a window. His skin is ashen, not so dissimilar from that of a corpse's, and his face is thin and gaunt. There are opened, infected sores on his hands that peek beneath his jacket; he can't stop himself from reopening the scabs on his body.

When he meets his eyes, he falters for the slightest of a moment.

Two eyes, yellow and full, stare back at him.

- - - - -

He's filling the Impala with gasoline, and he tilts his head back, stares at the sky, wide and endless overhead, and he remembers what it was like to sit in the car with Dean beside him so long ago.

If only he had known what waited beyond those days.

He brings his head down to check the price, and on the opposite side of the pump, Dean slides into the car while another Sam sits, young and baby-faced, fresh from college with a box of cassette tapes in his lap. The conversation is hauntingly familiar, and Sam whips around to see his Impala gone, and the newspapers on the stands outside tell him it's 2005 again.

He blinks, and the scenery shifts as if in a movie, quick flash of black screen fade-out, and he's back in the present year next to the car without Dean as its driver. Resting a hand against the warm metal of the hood, Sam catches his breath. He can time travel.

Saving Dean may go from a fool's dream to a stark reality.

- - - - -

He goes back to the night that the hounds came for Dean, but Sam cannot stop them. He is as invisible to them as he is to past Dean and Sam, and his words of warning fall on deaf ears as Dean waits, head held high and lips pressed tight.

Still Dean dies.

He goes back to the night that Dean made the deal, but Dean and the crossroads demon cannot see him. The demon with her red flashing eyes and low-cut dress and Dean with his bloodshot eyes and grief heavy on his shoulders.

Still Dean kisses her.

He goes back to the night that Jake sent him to his death. Past Sam and Dean don't see him, but Jake does and hisses something about a "real monster after all," and he picks up the knife from the mud, determined to end the madness.

Still Jake stabs Sam.

Sam goes farther and farther back, peeling through layers of months and years, searching for the place where he can change time enough to save Dean. But fate works against him each and every time, and his past self is always too slow to do what this Sam wants. Dean's death seems inevitable because past Sam is never powerful enough, never strong enough, to rise up and realize what he must do.

- - - - -

He's in a diner, watching his past self pore over books and a new laptop on how to possibly save Dean—not that those'll help any, buddy¬—and Ruby comes inside, all swagger and sass. She eats one of past Sam's french fries, and Sam knows how the lines to this old song go, so he stands and heads outside to wait.

She comes out of the restaurant when he knew she would, and she's licking her fingers and grinning catlike to herself. She doesn't notice him in the shadows until he says, "You ought to stay away from that Winchester boy." She stiffens and turns, surprised, as he continues, "It might end badly for you."

She narrows her eyes at him, and he can hear her thinking how very familiar he seems. But this Ruby doesn't know what he becomes—what she'll help him to become—and even though he still wears past Sam's skin, the body has suffered too much. Skin twisted shiny pink by a spread of scabs and scars, an eye gone milky white in its socket, and a frame that is gaunt and soul that is hard in ways that her Sam's is not.

"You think you can really save his brother?" Sam asks her.

"You're a demon."

He chuckles, ignores her comment and repeats, "What do you know about getting Dean Winchester out of Hell?"

"I'm sure there's a way," she says distractedly, brain still whirring at his identity.

"Well, let me break it to you, there isn't. You can't save Dean. There's nothing you can do. Keep feeding Sam your lines though. Maybe he'll catch on eventually."

She stares at him, angry and confused, before she asks, "Who are you?"

He smiles, tight and close-lipped. "Who do you think I am?" He can feel the heat behind his eyes as the world blooms into full focus once again. He doesn't need a mirror to know what color his eyes are now.

She steps back, startled, and whispers, "You came back? But they said—you—you were killed. Dean, he…I thought…"

Now it's his turn to stand in confused silence until she looks up at him, reverence and devotion in her eyes when she says, "Welcome back, Azazel."

- - - - -

Right then, he knows what he can do to save Dean.

- - - - -

Late at night, well after the rest of the world has gone to bed, he creeps into a room where stuffed animals line the walls and a baby sleeps on peacefully unaware. As he stands over the infant's crib, the child stirs, and Sam smiles through black lips.

You'll be stronger this time, he whispers mentally to the child. You'll be strong enough to save him.

Not even registering the pain, he cuts open his wrist with his fingernail, and blood drips, falls into the baby's mouth.

See, if I can give you some of me, some of my power and my blood, you'll be strong enough soon enough to save him. He won't die. He won't suffer this time.

A flash of a white nightgown and blonde curls, and a women rushes into the room. She falters in the doorway, gaping at him with his bleeding hand extended over the baby's crib. The blood falls, dots on chubby baby cheeks and blossoms when it hits the green and white checked blankets.

Her face contracts, confusion, and then she sees him and whispers, "It's you."

She sees him, and in him, she sees her youngest son.

All Sam sees is someone coming between him and his last chance to save Dean. If he can give this Sam the power that he has now, then this Sam will grow to be powerful enough to overcome Dean's death.

Mary rushes forward, maternal protection swelling strong in her, and Sam flings her aside. Dean will go to Hell if Sam's not strong enough. Doesn't she understand that he has to be strong enough? Doesn't she know?

The child begins to cry, and Mary screams as she slides up the wall and onto the ceiling. Angrily, distracted by the noise and chaos of mother and child wailing, flashes of Hell coming back to him where the demons laughed and Ruby begged, he splits open her abdomen without a second thought. Her blood, human warm and wet, falls onto his head.

He hears the father's frantic footsteps hurrying up the stairs, calling for his wife, and Sam looks down at the baby.

It'll be okay in the end, just you wait and see. You'll thank me for this someday. You'll thank me for making you so strong.

Before he disappears as a black cloud into the night, he thinks only of how the child, Sam, will thank him for being strong enough to save Dean. Because if Sam can save Dean this time around, then all will be well at last.