A/N: This story was a dream I had and by no means do I think this is how the season should end. Knowing the emotional vampire that Kripke is, our hearts will probably be bled dry by the real thing. All the angst filled speculation going around kind of got to me while I was sleeping, however (You know you're obsessed when…), and alas, this dream was so vivid I needed to put it down.
If anything, I think the season should end with Sam and Dean, alive and well, going off to do what they do best: kicking supernatural ass and being brothers. Honestly, I think the season finale should look something like Bayre's What You Feel, and I'm still holding out that the trickster gave Sam the key to saving Dean through all that torture in Mystery Spot. Here's hoping the real finale leaves our boys on higher ground, and that you guys don't hate me over this little piece.
As always your reviews keep me sane.
Special thanks to Bayre and Gaelicspirit for the beta!
Rated T for language
There were several ways Dean imagined his final day on this earth. None of which included the scenario placed out before him now…
Having seen what happened to those who made deals with the Crossroads Demon, Dean knew hell hounds were involved, some sort of painful, eviscerating mauling, and then the great fiery pit where he'd suffer eternity, maybe pop out the other side of Hell's ass as one of the black eyed freaks. Clawing out of Hell had become his new 'life' aspiration for when all of this was over.
To escape. To survive in death.
He'd resolved within himself, if becoming what he hated was unavoidable, then he'd never lose himself, even if he was a demon. He didn't care how many people had said that before him, it would be true with him.
It had to be true with him.
Imagined battles containing guns blazing through open canine mouths, knives tearing up hell hound hide, and fists flying into Cerberus's jaw, were all laid to waste as not a single hound had come for him that day. There was no howling black dog at Dean's door. Not that Dean had much of a door for one to come to.
He had opted not to run and hide, but to return to where his fate had been sealed. To wait at the crossroads knowing full well what he'd done a year ago. To wait out in the open, cold, night air, alone.
How could you do this, Dean? Sam's voice haunted him as he stood in the middle of the dirt road, mud pulling at his boots, chin tucked into his chest, hands dug deep within his pockets.
I couldn't live with you dead. I couldn't do it. Realizing too late how self-serving that had to have sounded, Dean shook his head in apology.
And what am I supposed to do with that, Dean…
"Live. Just live, Sam. Please…"
Words drifted through the wind that had been picking up gradually, words from memories of Sam telling him he'd have to be more like Dean to survive, telling him how cold Sam had become when he'd thought Dean had died the first time, telling him that he was about to leave Sam alone to fend for himself against an entire army of demons…Words that put more fear into him than what he knew was waiting to claim him.
Sam would find him at the crossroads eventually. Dean knew dodging him like he had, taking off, had already been perceived by his younger brother. Question was how fast could Sam put it together? Dean knew Sam would be angry, but it was better than Sam seeing his brother torn apart, soul dragged away to Hell. Dean didn't want to be remembered that way…
You tried, Sammy, Dean remembered saying, trying his damndest not to give into the way the words visibly shattered Sam's soul behind his eyes. You know I'll always be with you…There were no words to describe the way he felt at Sam's look, except Dean's heart suddenly fell away inside of him.
Nothing would convince Dean to let Sam watch this, even though the comfort of having Sam near was something Dean craved. His brother's presence would have been something to make the braying hounds more bearable as they descended upon him.
Except there were no hounds. No claws, or teeth, or fetid sulfur breath. There was laughter, however. Mocking, biting, deriding laughter that filled the night like the call of crows.
Pulling away from the shadows, having taken on human form, demons surrounded Dean, eyes black like pitch all turned on him. He hadn't expected this kind of turn out. Maybe there really had been an article in that newsletter the Crossroads bitch joked about.
One stood out from the rest, her eyes milky-white and cold, without iris, not red like he'd expected. Sam had shot the Crossroads demon with the Colt, but Dean has always assumed there were several of the same mold. He guessed he'd been wrong.
She regarded him quietly, long blond curls lifting in the wind, arms crossed beneath generous curves. If Dean didn't know better, he'd think the other side had bought out his contract.
"So," Dean started, rocking on the balls of his feet. "You're the one who holds my contract. What's with the rest of them?" Dean nodded around toward the circle.
She shrugged up a shoulder, releasing her slender arms to her sides. "Fans I suppose," she replied, nonchalantly. "They wanted to watch you die, maybe have a hand in it if given the chance. If you and your family hadn't destroyed their original hosts, you might actually recognize a couple, Dean Winchester."
"You all look the same to me," Dean replied.
She smiled, abundant red lips quirking, and Dean knew what she was thinking. He would be one of them. He would look like all the rest to some hunter. To Sam…
"You have a name?" Dean asked, watching her start to circle like a predator.
"I'm sure you've heard all about me," she cooed. "Nancy says hello, by the way. Still curses the day she met you. Hates you for leaving her to die in your place."
The realization hit him hard, making him dizzy. Anger burned through his synapses, causing his fists to snap tight at his sides. The name barely made it past his lips, but sounded strong with ire.
The one Ruby warned them about, the one who leveled the police station looking for Sam and him, the one that wanted 'Sam's entrails on a stick,' was now the one who owned Dean's soul. The universe, it would seem, was cruel and unrelenting.
But unlike Ruby had told them, this wasn't Lilith the child, this was Lilith the temptress. The Lilith of myth.
"Your debt has come due, Dean," she continued. "You cannot hide that fear from me. It's not so much that Hell awaits you is it, Dean? It's deeper than that. You fear what you'll become, what will happen to Sam."
She moved closer, pressing her body against Dean's, staring up into his eyes. He itched to throw her off, but he found himself cemented to the place he stood, arms uselessly fastened at his side.
"The deal was I went to Hell," Dean reminded her. "Didn't say how long I was staying."
"Oh, I'm fully aware of that," Lilith purred. "What did Ruby tell you? A few centuries, then you join the club?" She ticked her tongue slowly against the roof of her mouth. "No, I fully intend to put you in the pressure cooker, Winchester. We're at war. Need you back up here as soon as possible to report for duty, soldier."
Dean didn't reply, eyes deadening to hide the dread, jaw locked. His skin crawled beneath her touch.
"That is what you do best, isn't it, Dean? Follow orders. Afterlife imitating life. Betcha Daddy didn't tell you there was no getting off of that train."
She looked around at the silent assembly. "Where's that delicious brother of yours? Couldn't take it?" She pushed away from Dean and checked the horizon like she expected Sam to show, pouting when she realized he wasn't going to. "Coward couldn't watch his brother die? That's okay. I'll catch up to him sooner or later. Ruby can't hide him forever."
She tilted her head playfully. "You're usually all wise-cracks and witty retort, Dean. Didn't take you for the strong, silent type."
"Just wondering if we were going to get to Hell today or if you were going to talk me there," Dean sighed, acting bored.
Lilith beamed like a child. "Not yet. See I've been thinking. You know why Ruby asked you to make Sam tough as nails? A cold, heartless bastard? A replica of your father?"
She seemed to get a kick out of the way Dean's eyes shot up to meet hers at mention of John. "Because she wants him to be able to embrace what he was born to be. She told you she'd take care of him after you were gone," Lilith huffed. "Yeah, she'll take real good care of him."
Dean hadn't trusted Ruby, even when she poured out her heart to him about remembering what it was like to be human. Even if it was true, Dean wasn't about to believe his brother could or even should become cold, machine-like.
Then again, Sam stopped acting like himself a long time ago. Said he had to be more like Dean, to survive. Sam had told him about all those Tuesdays he'd watched Dean die, the one Wednesday when it was 'final,' and what happened to Sam then. The way he'd lost himself. The way he'd ceased to be Sammy. Sam feared becoming that way again. In Dean's mind, his brother's fear, meant he was every bit the same Sam as before the deal, and would still be the same Sam long after.
At least that was the hope Dean held onto.
"Truth is, Dean," Lilith continued. "I pull you down to Hell and Sammy's sure to follow." She folded her arms, looking at the nails on one hand. "And I can't have that happen."
Dean's eyes narrowed. "Why not? Afraid he'll kick your ass?"
Lilith's expression lost its playful fervor.
"You are," Dean's mouth ticked up at the corner. "You're afraid my brother's going to kick your ass."
Lilith seemed to be a good sport, laughing a little with Dean. "Doesn't it scare you, Dean? What Sammy was supposed to be? Hell, what he will be? I promise you, if he steps through those gates, he will be everything you feared and worse."
Dean's fists tightened again, fingers bloodless white. "You had me," Dean growled. "You had me a year ago! Why waste your time!? Huh? Why bring Sam back? Why not just kill me then?"
"I'm not the original procurer of the contract," Lilith replied. "Azazel was."
Dean shook his head. "No. He told me he didn't get to make the deal, wished he'd been the one to."
"He wished he'd made the deal. Didn't mean the contract didn't go right into his hands. As the original saleswoman told your brother, she had a boss, just like everyone else. Azazel was calling shots right up until he was taken out with the gun he left the bullet in," Lilith mused. "Not the brightest being, even if he did like to light mommies like kindling on the ceilings of nurseries. Azzy's pride gave him an ego the size of Pandæmonium."
Dean lifted a shoulder. "Doesn't really matter anymore. Wasted the son of a bitch. Wanted to take whoever held my contact out the same way, but a thieving bitch stole my gun. Hey, how many thieving bitches are worth say…my soul?"
Lilith's eyes sparkled. "Oh Dean, I think Bela sold her soul a long time ago."
"I figured as much," Dean said, licking his lips.
There was something off, more than the fact he was about to face eternity in the pit. Dean couldn't grasp what it was ticking at the back of his mind, sending him on point. Going to Hell wasn't exactly a normal thing for him. The chitchat and the circle of witnesses made Dean wish she'd collect already and get it over with. A thin sheen of sweat already coated his brow and tiny tremors worked their way up through his fisted fingers. If she didn't take him soon, he was going to lose his cool, devil-may-care exterior.
Calm like this was hard to keep up, especially when his whole core had turned to ice.
"Sounds like you don't want Sam coming after me…" Dean said, desperate to fill the heavy silence with noise. Desperate to dig into the center of that itch in his mind and scratch the hell out of it.
"Trust me, Dean, you don't want Sam coming after you."
"Yeah, yeah. Because Sam's supposed to become some demon leader? And that means you lose, right? That's a bitch. Guess I'm free to go then," Dean said.
"Sorry Dean. This isn't another round of Let's Make a Deal. This is more like a leasing. The deal was you go to Hell. And as always, the devil is in the details. Hell is negotiable by definition. Hell for you…can be here."
"Depends on the day," Dean replied flippantly.
Again the feeling that something was wrong started to dig again through his viscera. Lilith couldn't touch Sam or she would have. She was afraid of him. And the hesitation on collecting the deal…Could she even collect this deal?
Dean's brow rose. "Wait…you're serious? You're gonna…let me stay?"
"I want you to willingly take on one of my soldiers," Lilith's eyes went to Dean's amulet, then to just below that where the protective tattoo was hidden beneath his layers of clothing.
"No," Dean growled. "That wasn't the deal."
"Would you stop bitching and listen?" Lilith asked. "I own you now. We can do this the hard way or you can comply. I'm willing to let you live."
"It's not living if you're some fucking puppet," Dean disagreed.
"Please," she admonished. "What did you think would happen if you went down there." She pointed to the ground. "You'll follow me either way. At least this way you get to keep your brother. And as long as you keep him out of my hair, you two can push your eighties for all I care."
"Screw you. You can't touch us or you wouldn't waste your time like this."
Lilith looked down at the silver watch around her wrist. "We're three minutes past your expiration date, Dean. You're wasting my time. You wouldn't be any wiser to its presence. Think of it like a LoJack. Just making sure my property is accounted for at all times. A fail-safe to make sure you fulfill your new purpose."
Dean eyes narrowed with the terms 'property' and 'new purpose.'
"For the last time," Dean shook his head. "No. I'd rather have Hell then help you."
All her teasing demeanor left, her abundant lips thinning down to pencil thin lines
"How did I know that's what you'd say?"
Her eyes took on a soft glow, and Dean felt the ground beneath his feet quake. The stones around him quivered in sync, the vibrations picking up in intensity. His attention focused at his feet before his gaze came up to find her opalescent eyes in front of him, her breath, surprisingly sweet, caressing his nostrils. Her hand snaked behind his head, taking hold of the base of his skull, the other running long nails down the side of his cheek.
"Is this what you really want?" she whispered.
Her dead eyes seared into his, blinding him, burning him, but he couldn't blink or turn away. The light spread and consumed his vision, painfully sealing him away in a world of white-hot emptiness.
And just as quickly, the world peeled back like a Polaroid transfer, crinkled and broken.
Blood and fire. For a moment here was nothing to discern beyond blood and fire. Then the landscape twisted before his mind's eye showing agape mouths malformed by unimaginable pain and suffering, screaming souls, and splayed bodies laid out along the ground, backs bowed in cruel arcs, ash covered and emaciated. The earth crackled and burned like stoked embers and the sky was scorched black and void of visible horizon.
Or so he thought.
Writhing within the suffocating heat, unable to breathe, feeling every scream from those suffering around him reverberate through his throat as if it was his own, Dean was partner to agony unlike anything he'd experienced before. Crueler was what came after, as Dean tried to make out where he was. Through the smoke he could decipher the empty shells of buildings and vehicles, and as his focus grew more acute he could see broken, painted concrete and warped, metallic green street signs.
Hell was here.
Hell was in the world.
Dean watched the swirling smoke part at the distance, heard a sound like thunder, felt it permeate through the ground, through him. The darkness took on familiar form and stepped forward, and Dean felt something shatter inside his chest.
Sam drew near, fisting unnaturally strong fingers in Dean's shirt, lifting him up to meet his eyes. Eyes that were a disgusting yellow. Eyes that Dean had abhorred when set in the face of his father. Eyes that Dean had wanted to put a bullet between. Eyes that didn't belong in place of his little brother's kinder, gentler irises.
"Sam…" The word croaked out, thin in his ears.
It was met with a smile, a cruelly twisted smile, and Dean felt something dig into his chest. Something wrapped around his heart and pulled, crushing blood up into his throat.
And then he was back at the crossroads, kneeling in the mud, the taste of blood swathing his tongue. Lilith's voice slithered through his ears as he heaved in air, his mind fighting what he'd seen, eyes stinging.
"He forgot to tell you, didn't he?" she said. "Azazel's blood runs in his veins."
Brokenness like this was what had driven him to the crossroads the first time. She'd shown him 'Hell,' shown him what his brother would become if Sam followed him there. Dean's knees had long ago disappeared, his legs folded beneath him as he kneeled in slick crossroad's dirt. Lilith was still with him, bony fingers wrapped beneath his jaw, forcing his face up.
"I know how hard it will be for a hero such as your self to give up the fight, but you can save Sam, Dean. Live long lives. Hell, hunt if you want to be reckless…just stay out of the war and away from my kind…"
Why? What was she so afraid of?
Dean didn't respond, trapped with nowhere to go, and he knew he would regret whatever came from this. If he had known…God, if he'd known…
"You and I both know he'll come for you…Dean…"
"What choice do I have?" Dean shot back between gasps for air. The vision of Sam still burned through him.
If he went to Hell, Sam would be lost, either by coming for him or fighting alone. If he stayed…
"Does that mean you'll behave?" Lilith asked.
"Well, you know me, darlin'," Dean sneered, voice rough as it tumbled through his raw, seared vocal chords. "I don't behave. I'm not some demon skank's pet."
"But you will sacrifice yourself for Sam," Lilith interrupted. "As you've proven time and time again."
Dean's jaw went taut again. "So I'm just supposed to turn the other way, ignore what you're doing?"
"It'll be a bitch, but you'll have Sam," Lilith gave him a mocking smile. "What do you care what happens in this war, Dean? Let it end. Those were your words weren't they?"
Dean's throat tightened, closing his eyes. "I didn't..."
"Know? Come now, Dean."
"Bitch, don't pretend to know me!"
"I know enough. So what's it going to be?"
"You tell me," Dean returned.
"I knew you'd see it my way," Lilith crooned, kneeling with Dean, fingers moving through his hair to the back of his head.
Hell was losing who he was, and it seemed that would happen no matter what. At least this way he could protect Sam. Sam would understand…Sam would forgive him even if he, himself, wouldn't be able to look in the mirror.
Lilith pressed into him, her warm tongue, tasting of ash, sliding into his mouth, sealing the agreement between them like the Crossroads Demon had the original deal. Dean never saw the dagger, only felt it. Cold heat stole his breath, heart spasming around the blade.
He jerked with pain, knowing instantly that she'd pierced the tattoo on his chest, breaking the sigil of protection. The demon held onto him, deepening her kiss, even after he started to buck away, chest writhing against the shard of metal, life pouring out.
Dean could feel whatever demon Lilith had planned for him, wriggle between their lips, crawl down into his core, and take hold with a sickeningly-cold lurch. The pain radiating from his struggling heart was nothing compared to alienation of that moment, the failure of weakness, the guilt of not being stronger.
She pulled away, taking the dagger with her, leaving Dean on hands and knees, gasping as the wound healed over, creating a thin scar over the sigil. He lifted ire-bright eyes to her, seething as he held a hand to the scar.
"What?" Lilith played innocent. "Had to make sure you didn't go have one of your hunter friends save you. You take my 'gift' away, you die. You've seen it before."
He wished for that now. Death. Salvation from this certain Hell.
"Tell Sam hello for me." Lilith's voice wavered with his vision.
Dean swore, dropping his head, world swimming. He was unable to keep up on his arms, collapsing into the mud, enveloped by the dark that claimed him not long after.
Their disparaging laughter followed him into the black, and he embraced the silence that graced him eventually, praying he wouldn't come back.
But he did.
The sky had ripped apart above him, cold rain driving into his hot flesh, pelting eyes that felt bruised and refused to open. He was on his back, clothes soaked and clinging to his body, slick with mud, like a loose second skin.
In the distance he could hear something like thunder roll and swell. It became more staccato, deeper, closer, until the familiarity of it wrapped him within the security of the sound. The Impala. Home. Sam…
Headlights washed over him and he cracked mud-caked lashes to see who was there, even through he knew without a doubt. Blinking against the intensity of blinding white, he could see long legs breaking into a run.
In the next moment they folded, sliding in beside him, bringing his brother's face close, permeated with worry.
"Dean? No, no, no, I stopped it…I saved you…" Sam was saying, panic-shaky hands lifting Dean's head from the soaking ground. One came to rest on Dean's chest, peeling back the blood stained layers to check for wounds. Dean could taste copper and salt, felt the dried rivulets of blood along the cracks of his lips split as his mouth worked.
"S-Sam, what are you—?"
His brother's face changed, softening as he failed to find a source of the bleeding, tortured eyes lifting to Dean's pleading for answers.
"I figured it out, Dean. I couldn't find you to tell you…Jesus, all this blood…Dean?"
Dean couldn't breathe as Sam's fingers traced the scar, Sam's words echoing through the cavern recently hollowed out inside of him.
He never heard the hounds…
Sam gathered Dean in his arms, as if understanding had silently passed between them. Over and over Sam's words It's gonna be okay, muffled in Dean's neck, battled with Dean's soul screaming What have I done? Christ, I want it gone!
"I never… heard the hounds…" Dean whispered absently, hope washing away with the blood on his face.
Sam didn't let go.
"I saved you," Sam said again, voice wavering.
Somehow Sam knew.
Dean knew that wasn't what Sam needed to hear.
We can't keep sacrificing for one another, Sam had said when Dean asked about the Trickster. That was his twisted point. We have to find another way…
Closing his eyes, Dean felt the rising and falling of Sam's chest. Life. Not its cold absence. It was worth it. It was always worth it. In the end Dean couldn't give up who he was.
There would always be sacrifice.
And the vicious cycle would continue on…